adidas bag Kindhearted man’s unsolved killing still ‘haunts’ police

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Leslie “Lee” Byford had spent most of his 37th birthday working at his auto body shop and, after a quick stop at the house, was headed back out to celebrate with friends, according to witness accounts.

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He had only been homefor a moment. As he walked out a side door toward his SUV, the masked man ambushed him. The two briefly struggled before Byford was shot dead.

Three witnesses saw the killer running downhill through the dark toward Magnolia Avenue. Nearly five years later, that’s still where the trail goes cold.

“This one haunts me,” Knoxville Police Department Investigator Brandon Wardlaw said. “Because I’ve got nothing.”

What little is known about theattack indicatesit was not random, Wardlaw concludes. Byford was targeted.

By all accounts, thevictim was a kindhearted, generous man. After several years of stops and starts, he was still working long hours to keephis small, custompaint shop afloat. Which is to say, Byfordwasn’t wealthy. But he was well loved a man without enemies.

“Nobody (knows) any reason why something would happen to him,” Wardlaw said. “Usually there’s something in somebody’s background. . But all I know is he’s a guy that had a paint shop who would try to help people when they were down, and he got killed on his birthday. And I’ve got nothing else.”

The facts of the caseGenerally, killers don’t bother to cover their faces.

That the gunman wore a mask suggestshis motive was likely robbery, the investigator said.

And the location of the attack along a sleepy side street, outsidea house where Byford had lived for less than a year is a strong indication the killer was after Byford specifically, because he knew where to find him.

KPD Investigator Brandon Wardlaw recounts witness accounts of the Jan. 5, 2013 homicide of Leslie “Lee” Byford. (Photo: Submitted)

“We’ve had everybody that saw(the gunman) tell us that the guy had a mask on, which makes me think it’s a robbery,” Wardlaw said.”But no, I don’t think this is just random at all. I think it was something that was planned out, that somebody saw as an opportunity to take advantage of him.”

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The victim made it back to his Chevy Tahoe as the gunman rushed him. The two wrestled over the driver’s side door as Byford fumbled to lock it from the inside.

Two shots were fired amid the struggle. One lodged inside the door. The other round went through the victim’s ribcageand came to rest in the passenger seat, nearly striking Byford’s friend and part time employee, Gerod Murphy, who was sitting next to him.

While robbery makes sense as a motive, Wardlaw speculates the gunman may not have intended to take Byford’s life.

“Usually, somebody gets killed, we’ve heard of them before. . But for (Byford)to not be on anybody’s radar, nobody’s ever heard of him, and for him to be shot like that, makes me think it wasn’t intentional.

“If somebody one day came in here and said, ‘I was just trying to rob him and ended up shooting him by mistake,’ I would totally believe that.”

The Tahoe rolled backward down the drivewayand crashed into a small ditch at the edge ofthe street. Murphy reached into the floorboard and mashed the gas peddle with his hand, launchingthe vehicle out of the ditch and farther down the hill in a bid to escape.

Inside the house, Byford’s girlfriend, Tiffany Cannon,heard the gunfire and came to the front door to catch a glimpse of a man wearinga black ski mask and a blue sweatshirt.

“She described it as a kind of Memphis Tigers blue,” Wardlaw said.

A neighborat the bottom of the hill later offered a similar description of aman seen running away after the commotion.

Byford, who was pronounced dead at the scene,still had $371 cash in his pocket.

A Hardee’s on the far side of Magnolia was the closest business with a security camera, but the footage revealed nothing.

Police later recovered two .45 slugs an uncommon caliber among Knoxville crime scenes. Investigators have found no bullet before or since the slaying that appears to have been fired from the same weapon.
adidas bag Kindhearted man's unsolved killing still 'haunts' police